Publication Details

This conference paper was originally published as Kreis, IA, Orvad, A, Ruberu, D and Stace, R, Applied Epidemiology, A Full-subject Self-Directed Computer-Based Problem-Solving Learning Experience, in Corderoy, RM (ed), Proceedings of the 15th Annual Ascilite Conference: Flexibility The next wave?, University of Wollongong, Australia, 1998, 433-439.


A major difficulty of teaching public health to students in a Masters Program is conveying the need for taking a strategic approach to situations. Tackling real-life public health issues is rather complex. There will generally be a number of avenues of investigation and it is necessary to be wary of the short and long-term consequences of actions. Also time and money need to be managed effectively. As one approach to the education of students about these issues, a computer-based package has been developed which simulates the investigation of a real public health problem. This simulation enables students to encounter such issues in a risk-free environment, and to carry out their own investigations and propose their own solutions to the problems presented. Specifically, students have to clarify the impact of pollution on the health of residents in an affected area. They will collect and analyse data (from in-built real-life data sets), design and analyse their own epidemiological study and present their findings as reports, press-releases and presentations. The task takes students an entire subject (14-weeks) to complete and is largely self-directed. The package contains both quantitative data, such as mortality and morbidity statistics, and qualitative data, such as the outcome of interviews with key stakeholders. The package also exploits the multimedia capabilities of a PC by incorporating maps and photographs of the polluted area. This enables students to undertake a virtual trip, and thus pick up vital clues about potential sources of contamination. The package provides links to standard statistical software, thereby giving students an opportunity to become more familiar with programs they are likely to use in real-life. The data provide sufficient breadth and detail for students to use various strategies. But, to simulate real-life, students have to conduct their investigations within virtual time and budgetary constraints, continuously monitored by the computer program. In particular, monitoring of constraints, the real-life data and the linked use of standard software allow for the realistic development of essential skills. In the subject setting, role-play during the presentations, and reporting in real-life formats, add to the simulation. Practical exercises have not been part of most Public Health Masters programs world wide, and yet the complexity of real-life situations means that such experience is invaluable. When fully complete, this package will offer a novel, innovative and important approach to the teaching of this aspect of public health.